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Texterity Turns the iPhone Into a Colorful, Always-Connected Newsstand

By John P. Mello Jr. MacNewsWorld ECT News Network
May 11, 2009 4:00 AM PT

With print publishers groping for viable business models that mix their online and offline content, a company called "Texterity" has developed a novel approach to the challenge, at least for magazine makers. The Southborough, Mass., concern's technology melds the best features of print and digital publishing into a product that can be delivered across a variety of platforms, including Apple's mobile star, the iPhone.

Texterity Turns the iPhone Into a Colorful, Always-Connected Newsstand

Texterity's digital magazines differ from other online delivery systems like Adobe's Acrobat and Flash products. You don't need special software to read a Texterity periodical -- a common browser will do -- and the pages not only retain the rich graphic elements of their print counterparts, but also are transformed into true online documents that can be searched -- by users as well as search engines -- and hyperlinked.

Early E-Book Failures

The company's approach to digital publications was forged from its experience with electronic books in the late 1990s. "The early e-book experience was ultimately unsuccessful for everybody that was involved in it," Texterity President Martin Hensel told MacNewsWorld.

"It was unsuccessful because the formatting disappeared from the books," he continued. "That formatting is a noticeable portion of a consumer's perceived value of the book."

What distinguishes Texterity among magazine repackagers is the depth of its services, according to Steve Paxhia, head of the publishing strategy practice for the Gilbane Group in Cambridge, Mass.

"Texterity has wonderful conversion services and offers a lot of back office support to help publishers maintain archives of their articles," he told MacNewsWorld. "Texterity offers very robust services for publishers who want to go digital."

Shrinking Challenges

Modifying the visual aspects of the system for smaller devices like the iPhone was challenging, Texterity's Hensel admitted.

"Screen real estate is so limited. You have to use every bit of it as carefully as possible so you minimize the number of navigational choices that are presented," he explained, "and you give them in layers so that not all the choices are presented at one time, so they don't clutter up the screen."

In addition, the publication is presented a page at a time instead of in a "spread" with facing pages displayed simultaneously. It also incorporates "reflowable text," which takes the text from an article and reformats it into a column width that optimizes legibility on a portable device.

"We think the digital magazine experience, as it evolves for mobile devices, will be a combination of the replica of the magazine for navigation purposes and then reflowable text for deep reading," Hensel predicted.

Currently, some 52 magazines can be read on the iPhone from the Texterity Web site.

Apple Vassal

The Texterity site also works with Google's mobile phone operating system, Android.

However, "we're going deeper with Apple because there's so much activity on the iPhone," Hensel said.

The company has an iPhone app in the works that will improve the reader's experience of Texterity-based magazines, he revealed. The app will automatically download new issues of a magazine into an iPhone and allow the subscriber to navigate through its pages using an interface similar to the Cover Flow feature found in iTunes and other Apple software, which lets users zip through album covers.

Wooing Readers

The value proposition that print magazines offer their readers has been a tough nut for technology to crack, but fissures appear to be in sight.

"Every publisher expects that two or three years from now, there will be devices that are full-color, high-resolution, and always connected to a network that will be great magazine-reading experiences," Hensel postulated.

"Beginning at that point," he continued, "a growing percentage of readers will be reading their magazines totally digitally, but it will be the better part of 10 years before a meaningful percentage of readers are reading only digitally."

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